In 2001, James Simpson and his wife, Patti, decided to switch up their lifestyle and what their families had done for generations in an attempt to start something new. After reading an article in The Progressive Farmer about agritourism, James and Patti decided to start up a corn maze on a 30-acre corner in a half-mile pivot.
The Simpson’s Agritourism Journey
In the first season At’l Do Corn Maze was open to the public, James said 18,000 people visited the corn maze. Every season since their opening, the maze has continued to grow, while other activities have evolved with it.
“I never anticipated this taking off,” James said. “I didn’t know anyone who would pay to walk through a corn field.”
In 2007, the At’l Do Corn Maze had grown so much James and Patti decided they had to choose between James’ favorite time of year, harvest season, or the goliath he and Patti had created. That year, James took part in his final harvest and hasn’t looked back since.
“The decision wasn’t really that hard, because [the maze] gave us the opportunity to work together as a family,” James said. “When I was farming, I was gone.”
The Simpson’s corn maze and fall seasonal activities run for roughly eight weeks. The business keeps growing. They now employ roughly 65 hard-working, seasonal workers. After the maze’s growth, James said visitors kept asking if the property would host events like weddings, holiday parties or proms. Eventually, the Simpsons opened up the barn on the property and now host between 12 and 15 weddings a year during their off-season.
Agritourism and the Economy
Agricultural tourism, a working farm, ranch or agricultural plant that also conducts business for the enjoyment of visitors to provide substantial income for the owner, is a continuously growing industry. In the 2012 USDA census, Texas farms and ranches comprised 19 percent of our nation’s agritourism revenue with $133 million in sales. Lubbock and the South Plains are contributing to that state agritourism statistic with activities like pumpkin-picking patches, corn mazes, petting zoos, hay rides, Christmas tree farms, agricultural museums, winery tours and tastings, and farmers’ markets.
“You don’t have to get into agritourism to educate anyone.”
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, those involved in the agricultural industry stand to benefit from the financial, educational and social benefits of agritourism. The industry has increased tourism, and in towns like Lubbock, agritourism activities allow for college students to get involved in agriculture.
At’l Do Farms and the Community
Agritourism provides job opportunities that may have not previously been in the community, including the roughly 65 individuals employed by At’l Do Farms during the fall. These 65 employees all have the opportunity to play a role in someone’s agricultural education by the daily interactions they hold. The chance to educate someone on farming practices and agricultural aspects is something that James says he values.
“What I didn’t realize was how deep the roots run and how rich farmers are in the heritage they hold,” James said. “Farmers are worth so much more than just the crops that they grow, and you don’t have to get into agritourism to educate anyone.”
The opportunity to educate others on the agricultural practices and ways of life continues to grow, and the market and demand for those opportunities is rising with it. Agritourism is one of the fastest-growing segments of the travel industry. According to the 2007 to 2012 census, there was an estimated 25 percent increase in income reported from agritourism across the United States. This increase can be attributed to many farmers across our nation taking that large step, just like the Simpsons did, into the world of agricultural tourism.
The Simpsons have leaned on social media and word of mouth to help spread the word on events that are taking place at the corn maze. Social media’s role in agritourism is substantial; allowing for personal and engaging interactions that traditional websites cannot. Social media also allows for quick updates and the timeliest information that could relate to weather or emergencies.
Michael Farmer,Ph.D., an agricultural and applied economics professor at Texas Tech University, is a natural resource economist with extensive travel experience witnessing first-hand agritourism across the globe. Farmer said he believes there are three different sectors of agritourism, but they are all linked. These sectors include agritourism as an educational means, ecotourism on agricultural land, and the mixture of cultural tourism and agritourism. Many properties used for hunting may also be considered a part of agricultural tourism.
European countries exhibit more of what Farmer considers true agricultural tourism. The countries have rules and regulations that set standards for how farmland may look so that tourists get a pleasant experience with the land.
“Agricultural tourism is generally more prevalent in European countries than in the United States and less so in developing countries,” said Farmer. “However, agritourism is still a growing industry in the U.S.”
Farmer said the direction agritourism is taking in the United States can stand to benefit our natural resources. Although agricultural tourism, ecotourism and conservation tourism are all different, they all play an instrumental role in supporting each other. An increasing amount of the U.S. population is beginning to want to be actively involved in all of these activities. Self-harvesting operations are some of what Farmer considers the only true row crop agricultural tourism operations left.
Individuals wanting to be a part of tradition and holiday experiences help fuel traditional agritourism. Students and alumni of Texas Tech University are notorious for loving seasonal traditions, including tortilla throwing at football games, Carol of the Lights, and now many students have begun adding At’l Do Farms’ Corn Maize to the list of their Texas Tech traditions during the fall. Agricultural tourism may include a wide variety of things, but it’s clear the traditions farmers value are being shared with many friends and families all over the globe.